After 13 years, QC court finds two bus drivers guilty of Chit Estella’s death

A court in Quezon City has convicted two bus drivers responsible for the road crash that killed former College of Mass Communication (CMC) professor Lourdes Simbulan, more popularly known as Chit Estella, a few weeks before her 13th death anniversary.

In a decision dated April 22, Judge Ralph Lee of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 83 said drivers Daniel Espinosa and Victor Ancheta were guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property and homicide.

“Both of the accused being public utility drivers should have primary concern not just for their safety but also to their passengers and other motorists,” the decision reads.

The two have been sentenced to two years and four months in prison, while the companies owning the buses were obligated to jointly pay Estella’s kin over P7.6 million, which includes moral and exemplary damages.

The total amount also includes the expenses incurred for Estella’s wake and her earning capacity from the date she died until her supposed retirement age of 65.

“Above all, this court recognizes the immense contributions of the late University of the Philippines Professor Lourdes Estella-Simbulan as one of the country’s premier academicians and journalists,” the court decision reads.

On May 13, 2011, Estella was in a taxi along Commonwealth Avenue when her vehicle was bumped on its side by a Nova bus driven by Ancheta and rammed from behind by a Universal Guiding Star bus with Espinosa on the wheel.

After the collision, Ancheta and Espinosa reportedly ran away and did not report the incident to authorities for investigation.

Read: Simbulan writes 30

Estella’s case dragged on for over a decade due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to their family’s lawyer Arno Sanidad in a 2021 interview with VERA Files.

Sanidad also noted that the last session occurred in March 2021, but all hearings had indefinite schedules due to the pandemic. 

Estella was an assistant professor at CMC and one of the founders of VERA Files, a non-profit organization focusing on in-depth stories about national issues.

Prior to VERA Files, Chit worked as managing editor for the Manila Times, where she faced a P101-million libel suit for a story on how former president Joseph Estrada allegedly benefitted from anomalous government contracts.

She eventually resigned from the paper after its owners wrote an apology to Estrada. She then moved to become the editor-in-chief of the short-lived Filipino political tabloid Pinoy Times, where she continued to be critical of Estrada.

Read: Leaving something for the ones left behind

Estella’s death served as a wake-up call for a more intensive road safety campaign. In 2016, legislators enacted the Republic Act 10916, or the “Road Speed Limiter Act of 2016,” which mandated the installation of speed limiters on public utility vehicles.

VERA Files also launched The Chit Estella Road Safety Page in the same year which sheds light on road safety issues through in-depth reportage.

It also partnered with the UP Journalism Department for the Chit Estella Student Journalism Awards as part of the annual Philippine Journalism Research Conference. The awards aim to honor outstanding journalism research and outputs of students from across the country.